Sports Betting

Respect the challenge ahead when you consider betting on football or any other sport

There are no smart bets at a roulette table.

The odds are slightly against you on any bet you place. You might string together some wins anyway. The house doesn’t have a huge edge on any individual spin of the wheel. But, eventually you’re going to lose money. The longer you play, the more certain it is.

If there was a way to turn the odds into your favor, you would have seen a movie made about the “MIT Roulette Team,” with scouts signaling big money bettors to approach whenever the wheel had turned “favorable.” A green 0 and 00 help make sure that can’t happen. And, even if you make longshot bets on either of those coming up, the house doesn’t pay “true odds” when they do.

What does this have to do with sports betting? It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every sports book tries to stick the equivalent of a huge roulette table on its back wall…one that only offers bets where the house has the edge against the majority of bettors. Among the ways sports books accomplish this…

Charging an 11/10 vigorish to losers on straight bets involving the point spread.

Shading lines against known public tendencies, so recreational bettors wanting to take popular choices have to lay more points AND pay that 11/10 if they lose.

Posting money line options that allow you to just pick the straight up winner. You lay odds on favorites, take back odds on underdogs. These are priced so that the house believes it has a slight edge either way.

Offering parlays that don’t pay off at true odds. Parlays must sweep for bettors to cash. Most recreational bettors don’t realize how hard it is to sweep.

Offering teasers that allow bettors to move point spreads in football or basketball a certain number of points in their favor. Again, you must sweep your choices to cash. It’s harder than realized to sweep these because bonus points aren’t as helpful as most believe.

In baseball, offering “run lines” where you can lay -1.5 runs, or take +1.5 runs at adjusted money line prices. Again, these are priced so the house has an edge. Depending on how common one-run games are in any season, the punishment here for recreational bettors is typically worse than with regular money lines.

All of this is important to remember if you’re trying to figure out how to bet a certain game. There are probably no “value” choices.

Baseball bettors who love backing favorites are running into this on a daily basis. It’s now very expensive to lay odds with contenders against disinterested opponents who have thrown in the towel. Should bettors lay a huge money line? Should they lay -1.5 runs at a lower money line? Should they stick that big favorite in a parlay with other favorites on the assumption that all the good teams will win?

If a sportsbook has done its job, none of those are good choices. You’re not “outsmarting” the oddsmakers by switching to run lines and parlays. They’re outsmarting you by luring you into making even worse bets.

You’ll be confronting this reality in baseball through the rest of August and all of September. When regular season football starts, you’ll have even more weekend options for money line parlays. Don’t assume there are sure things up on the big board.

Sharps (professional wagerers) try to put the odds in their favor through…

In-depth handicapping that tries to isolate a handful of mistakes.

Disciplined play rather than betting for entertainment.

Taking free points when they’re offered by fading popular betting teams.

Only betting teasers in games where points they’re “buying” are worth more than they’re paying (examples: focusing on moves that cross both key numbers three and seven at one time, or focusing on defensive battles where scoring should stay tight).

The return of football has many of you anxious to get to the nearest sports book. Have respect for the challenge at hand when you start handicapping the board.

Other Notes

The New Orleans Saints don’t play their second NFL preseason game until Sunday. VSiN will preview that road matchup the Los Angeles Chargers (CBS, 3 p.m.) in our weekend report on Saturday. The Chargers opened as a 3-point favorite.

Pro football TV matchups the next two days: Oakland at Arizona (Thursday, ESPN, 7 p.m.), Chicago at the New York Giants (Friday, NFL Network, 6:30 p.m.)

Circa Sports was the first Las Vegas book to post Over/Unders for Week One of the college football season. Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Mississippi State went up at 56.5 (the Bulldogs are favored by 21.5). Ole Miss at Memphis is expected to be much higher scoring, with a total of 68.5 (the Rebels are +6.5). We have a few weeks to see how sharps attack those. The general public usually won’t bet totals until game day.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at